Week 1 couldn’t have gone much worse in Kansas City — the Chiefs not only suffered a 26-10 loss at the hands of the Titans, but will likely miss two key defenders for the rest of the season. Linebacker Derrick Johnson and defensive lineman Mike DeVito both ruptured their Achilles tendons, announced head coach Andy Reid (via the team’s Twitter account).
Johnson, 30, leads an Chiefs inside linebacking unit that simply doesn’t have the depth to withstand his absence. Johnson played on 97% of Kansas City’ defensive snaps last season, racking up 95 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and two interceptions. Advanced metrics rated him well, as he graded out as the third-best 3-4 inside linebacker among 55 qualifiers, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). With Joe Mays having been placed on short-term IR, the Chiefs will turn to Josh Mauga and James-Michael Johnson to hold the fort in the middle of the field.
DeVito’s loss is just as devastating, as the 30-year-old started 13 games last season, finishing with 18 tackles. Like Johnson, DeVito fared well according to PFF, grading as the seventh-best 3-4 defensive end on 446 snaps. The Chiefs have a little more depth along the line than at linebacker, but Vance Walker, Damion Square, and Jaye Howard can’t be expected to match the production of DeVito.
Already expected to regress in 2014, the Chiefs can’t afford to lose players of Johnson and DeVito’s caliber. Kansas City’s defense experienced life without its stars in 2013, as well — the Chiefs ranked 14th in weighted defensive DVOA, which more heavily factors in late-season performance, following injuries to Justin Houston and Tamba Hali (after ranking ninth for the year in total). After accounting for today’s news, and the fact that Brandon Flowers and Tyson Jackson departed over the offseason, 14th is probably the ceiling for the Chiefs’ defensive DVOA performance in 2014.